One of my favorite places in the world: Kyiv, Ukraine. This city is so vibrant, so historic, and a complete hidden gem! To start out my journey with you through Ukraine and Eastern Europe, here are the top 5 reasons to travel to Kyiv, Ukraine.
Reason #1 to travel to Kyiv: The history
This country and this city is crawling with history. Kyiv is oozing with history, both cultural and religious. On the religious side, Kyiv is known as the birthplace of the Russian Orthodox Church, dating all the way back to the first half of the 10th century. Back then, Kyiv was called the Kievan Rus.
On the cultural side, Kyiv was both severely affected and protected at the same time. A majority of the churches still stand, some had to be rebuilt due to the bombings during WWII, but some were never affected. There are some other WWII historical sites that are so devastating to see, but at the same time extremely important to see. Here are some must-see historical sites in Kyiv!
- Golden Gate: Historical entrance to the city (dating back to 1037). There’s a museum inside with narration in all major languages!
- Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra: Active Russian Orthodox monastery consisting of churches, museums, gardens, and catacombs. It has been given the name of “Monastery of the Caves.”
- Motherland Monument & Spivoche Pole: Dare I say it, the Statue of Liberty of Ukraine. You can climb to the top of the monument for an amazing panoramic view and then enjoy Spivoche Pole park and lunch at Tsars’ke Selo!
- Holodomor & Babi Yar: The first is a museum and historical site dedicated to the lives lost in the man-made forced genocide of Ukrainians in the 1930s, the latter is the exact site and memorial of the 33,000 Jewish lives lost in 1941 during WWII. Both are so difficult but also so important to visit.
- Arsenalna Metro Station: for all my Atlas Obscura fans out there, this is the deepest metro station in the world!
- St. Sophia’s Cathedral, St. Michael’s Cathedral, St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral: there are no words to describe these cathedrals other than spirit. I am not a religious person, and can still feel the spiritual power in these places.
- Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square): The main square of the city and also the site of the Maidan Revolution in 2014.
There are so many more places that I could list off, keep an eye out for future blog posts about places of interest in Ukraine!
Reason #2 to travel to Kyiv: The food
The food… this is one of my favorite food scenes in the world and i’ll tell you why. Kyiv restaurants always manage to combine comfort food with such class at almost all of the establishments. The experience of eating out is better than the food itself, even though I do love the food. Some of my favorite restaurants that you MUST visit on your next trip to Kyiv:
- Tsars’ke Selo: If you want to feel like you’re in a traditional Ukrainian village eating Boscht, Draniki and garlic “Pompushki” knots, go here.
- Puzata Hata: Locals may shun me for putting this on a list of “best food” for travelers, but as a once-local, I stand by it. This is a Ukrainian cafeteria that you can always reliably be within 5 minutes of if you are in the city center. Expect to wash your hands, grab a tray, load up on a 3-course meal and pay less than $5 USD (150 UAH)
- Kupidon: My all-time favorite dive bar! It’s in a basement feeling like a speak-easy library. Whenever I would be exhausted from a long workday, or if it were cold outside… I would come here. My usual order: 0.5L Lvivsky Dunkel, Borscht with Pompushki (garlic knots), or Draniki with meat (or how my family calls them in Belarus, Kolduny). All under $3 USD (100UAH).
Georgian Cuisine: Kyiv is booming with cuisine from the Republic of Georgia. If you are not aware, Georgian cuisine consists of bread, cheese, red wine, meat and eggplant. This is the best comfort food of all time, and Kyiv restaurants have mastered it.
- Gogi: All I have to say is that we were regulars. Always get the eggplant rolls, a carafe of their house red wine, Adjarian Khachapuri, Khinkali, Chkmeruli. 3-course meal for two, $20USD (600UAH-ish). And the atmosphere is incredible.
- Mama Manana: While we were sitting here for dinner one night (eating what we usually eat–Khinkali & Khachapuri), guests were crushing grapes outside with their feet in buckets!
I have way more where this came from. Be on the lookout for my restaurant guide of Kyiv!
Reason #3 to travel to Kyiv: The arts & culture
Two words: the art and the ballet. I would go to the Kyiv ballet every weekend if I could. Of course, if you have ever seen a Russian ballet, nothing else can compare. The Russian ballet is so stunning and so intense, that at times it can feel overwhelming by how legendary it is. The Kyiv ballet is less known, the Opera Theatre is smaller so you can have a great viewing experience everywhere in the theatre, the performances are incredible, and they perform both classic ballets, cultural and folk performances and modern performances.
Art is everywhere in Kyiv. Murals, paintings, the art alleyways, Andriivskiy Descent… the list could go on. My personal two favorites are:
- Peizazhna Alley: This whimsical art walk was created in 2012, when Ukraine hosted the Euro soccer championship. It’s a little difficult to find, but follow your map and you may need to walk between buildings to find it!
- Andriivskyi Descent: At the end of the scenic alley, you will almost immediately stumble upon Andriivskyi Descent. If you are looking for souvenirs, THIS is the place to buy them. The souvenirs are authentic, vendors are genuine Ukrainian locals who run their own small businesses, and plenty of artists are setting up their easels along Andriivskyi Descent, as it has some of the best up-close views of Andriivskyi Church and historical “old” Kyiv.
Reason #4 to travel to Kyiv: The outdoor history
Ukrainian nature is wonderful! Rolling hills, skiing in the northwest, beaches in the southeast, farms, fields, and more. Just 20 minutes outside of downtown Kyiv is the Pirogovo Open Air Museum. You can spend HOURS at this museum exploring historical village replicas from different centuries. There are food stalls, beer, wine, sweets, and sometimes even sporting events, festivals and religious holiday celebrations. We happened to be there for a festival in October! We listened to folk music, there were horses milling around, an archery tournament, beer, shashlik.
Price: 20 UAH ($0.90USD) per person
Getting there: Take an Uber! Should not cost you more than $6-$7USD.
Time: Give yourself a few hours, I would recommend 3-4 hours.
Reason #5 to travel to Kyiv: The nightlife
People always say to head to Prague or to Budapest for nightlife. Agreed, but also add Kyiv to that list! There are speakeasies. There are underground bars. There are clubs, both relaxed and very upscale. There are outdoor clubs in old garages, there are huge art and music festivals! A few that I’ve been to: White Nights Festival and Atlas Weekend Festival.
Some places to put on your list:
- Loggerhead: some of the best cocktails I have ever had. I attached the map, but good luck finding the door and getting in! (Hint: when in doubt, head down the stairs. It’s a huge wooden door with a Ukrainian door man.)
- Hangover: An old carwash turned the ultimate influencer hangout, for good reason. It has several different areas to hang out in, reasonably priced, has Corona Ritas (which is hard to find if you’re living in Ukraine), and is always a great time! Pro-tip, if you hate standing in lines and being at the mercy of bouncers like we do, show up before 10pm.
- VarVar Bar: You want craft beer? Come HERE for craft beer. After, hop on over to Caribbean Club for dancing right up the street! (Also, for more Georgian food–“Oh Mama! It was in Tbilisi!” has great food. Look for “ОЙ, МАМО”)
For more nightlife ideas, check out this blog from Hostelworld!
Bonus: The feeling of newness
What I love most about this city, is how every corner you take you feel like you are discovering something new. You will meet so many different kinds of people here, be entranced by so much history, and be surrounded by a vibrant city that is constantly changing. Ever since the Maidan Revolution, you can feel how people want change here, and they’re willing to work for it. Make this one of your top destinations while it is still fairly new to tourism!